Spanish police took action on Tuesday after the latest case of abuse against Vinícius Júnior, arresting seven people accused of racially insulting the Real Madrid player.
Three were detained in Valencia for alleged abuse against Vinícius in a Spanish league match on Sunday. Four were arrested in Madrid for allegedly hanging an effigy of the player off a highway bridge in January.
The arrests come after an outpouring of support for Vinícius after he said he was abused in Valencia. The case prompted widespread reaction from sports figures and government officials in Spain and worldwide.
The nation has been criticized for its lack of action in racism cases in soccer. Brazilian government officials, including President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, had publicly expressed their concerns.
“It’s a crucial moment, a moment to take drastic measures,” Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said Tuesday. “Now that the issue has visibility, the institutions have to take this opportunity to try to fix this problem.”
All seven were arrested on suspicion of committing a hate crime, police said. None of them were publicly identified, and police did not discuss the timing of the arrests.
Vinícius, who is Black, has been subjected to repeated racist taunts since he arrived in Spain five years ago and especially this season after he began celebrating his goals by dancing.
The Brazilian has heavily criticized Spanish soccer for not doing more to stop racism.
The match against Valencia was temporarily stopped after Vinícius said a fan behind one of the goals called him a monkey and made monkey gestures toward him. Vinícius considered leaving the field but eventually continued playing.
The effigy of Vinícius was hanged by the neck on the morning of a derby match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey. Along with it was a banner with the words “Madrid hates Real.”
The perpetrators used a black figure with Vinícius’ name on it, tied a rope around its neck and hanged it from an overpass while still dark in the Spanish capital.
Police said three of those arrested belonged to one of Atletico’s fan groups, and the other was a follower of the group. Some had prior bookings with police for other crimes.
The hate message on the banner is often used by Atletico’s hardcore fans, though at the time they denied being responsible for the display.
The men arrested in Madrid are between the ages of 19 and 24. Authorities said some were previously identified during matches considered at high risk of violence. Police showed images of them arriving in handcuffs and escorted by agents on Tuesday.
Spanish media said police had used security cameras to identify the perpetrators but no action had been taken until now. Valencia and authorities worked together to identify and detain the suspects in the match against Madrid. The club said it banned the suspects from its stadium for life.
“The club reiterates its strongest condemnation against racism and violence in all forms and is acting forcefully against all identified persons with the most severe measure by banning them for life from our stadium,” Valencia said in a statement.
The lights at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro were turned off Monday night in a show of solidarity for Vinícius, who did not practice on Tuesday citing a minor injury. He will not play in Madrid’s match against Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday because of the red card he was shown late in the match against Valencia.
“It’s an action of solidarity that is moving,” Vinícius said on Twitter. “But more than everything, what I want is to inspire and bring more light to our fight.”
Vinícius thanked all the support he has received in the last months in Brazil and abroad.
“I know who you are,” he said. “Count on me, because the good ones are the majority and I’m not going to give up. I have a purpose in life, and if I have to keep suffering so that future generations won’t have to go through these types of situations, I’m ready and prepared.”
Real Madrid on Monday took the case in Valencia to prosecutors as a hate crime, and president Florentino Pérez said Tuesday his club “will not tolerate any more racist incidents against its players.”
The Spanish league has filed nine similar criminal complaints of cases of racial abuse against Vinícius in the last two seasons, with most of them being shelved by prosecutors.
The league said Tuesday it will seek to increase its authority to issue sanctions in cases of hate crimes during games. Under current rules, it said it can only detect and denounce incidents to authorities and the country’s soccer federation. It will “now proactively seek an amendment to the law that enables it to enact disciplinary action moving forward.”
Supporters have been fined and banned from stadiums for their abuse against Vinícius, but so far only a Mallorca fan may end up going on trial for allegedly racially insulting the Brazilian during a game.
The first trial against a fan accused of racial abuse in Spanish professional soccer is expected to happen at some point this year; the case involved Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams, who was insulted by an Espanyol supporter in a match in 2020.
The Spanish federation on Tuesday launched a campaign to increase awareness about the fight against racism.
Reporting by The Associated Press.